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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Former Colts interim coach Bruce Arians has Arizona at 6-4 and in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

No time for sentiment

He tries not to get lost in it, and only he knows how hard that is. Every day Bruce Arians comes to the office and here’s that game ball and this Coach of the Year trophy, and over here’s the picture, he and Chuck Pagano, thick as thieves …

Doesn’t seem real.

“It’s just like, ‘Wow, did this really happen? Or did I just dream all this and I’m still fired?’ ” Arians said last week, as his current football team, the Arizona Cardinals, got ready to play the team he coached in Pagano’s absence last year, the Indianapolis Colts.

“You can’t not think about it.”

Nor can you afford to think about it, at least for very long. And so he looks at the ball and the trophy and the photo, and then he looks away. And across the country, Pagano and his football team look away. Because this is the NFL, and sentiment kills in the NFL, even when the situation virtually screams for it.

“Go to put it away and get to work,” is how Arians puts it.

And Pagano?

“Got to play the game on the field,” he says.

It’s the dominant theme in this business – Us vs. Them – and you don’t survive unless you pay homage to it, and do so frequently. That Pagano and the Colts know intimately how Arians does things out in the desert, because he did them last year in Indianapolis while Pagano was taking on leukemia bare-knuckled, might or might not be an advantage. But in the end, it doesn’t much matter.

In the end, what matters, here in the shadow of Thanksgiving, is just winning.

The Colts need to win to keep the rest of the AFC South at arm’s length, because if they do that they get home-field advantage for at least one round of the playoffs. And Arians’ Cardinals need to win because they’re 6-4 and right in the thick of the fight for a wild-card berth in the NFC.

“It’s hard to reminisce now. I don’t know if this is the time,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck says, correctly. “At the end of the day, it’s football. You got to go out and play the game, can’t worry how well he knows our personnel or we know him. I think that’s sort of thrown out the window.

“We’ll go out and play, hopefully, the same brand of football that we practice here. I don’t think we’ll be concerned about that.”

For the Colts, that will mean trying once again to overcome the hole in that brand of football that’s been evident ever since the man three lockers down from Luck went down with a season-ending knee injury. The Colts haven’t looked the same or played the same since Reggie Wayne shredded his ACL; there was the lost Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium against the Rams, the struggle with a depleted Houston Texans club, and then the close scrape last week against the Titans.

Now they get the Cardinals, out there, where Arizona is 4-1. And one more chance to regain their footing against a team that, per Arians’ trademark, likes to stretch the field vertically and is pretty much treating this like a playoff game.

“It’s still Andrew (Luck) leading the charge, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. No matter who’s calling plays or what offense it is, it’s still about No. 12 and getting him stopped somehow,” Arians says of the Colts.

“We try to go into it saying they throw it down the field, it’s just as much an opportunity for us as it is them,” Pagano says of the Cardinals.

No sentiment there. Only football.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.